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Halloween: Are We Perpetuating Stigma?

Happy Halloween
Happy Halloween


I live outside of the city in a very rural area. There aren’t many streetlights up here on the Hill and it gets very dark. If you were walking at night in my neighbourhood around this time of year and came upon my house, one of two things would happen:


  1. If you were the type of person that doesn’t enjoy a good scare you would speed up your pace, avert your eyes and definitely plug your ears.
  2. If you were the type of person that does enjoy a good scare you would stop and try to take it all in. You may even make your way to my front door and ask for a tour through our yard, and I would happily oblige.


Both of the above scenarios have happened, many times, and both scenarios make me happy. The only time I wasn’t happy with my display was when it made a beautiful little girl cry, but I got over it fast and she hasn’t been back since.


Halloween isn’t for everybody, but in this house we love it and we go all out. The trick-or-treaters will pass through a haunted graveyard, a bone maze, ghosts and ghouls that talk to them in frightening voices, and before they cross onto the steps to hit the payload of candy, the ground will shudder beneath them to their squeals of delight.


What you will not find at my house are the costumes and decorations that I see popping up more and more in stores and online – the asylum or mental patient accessories that people seem to be so fond of lately. I know, I know, it’s the one day of the year that you get to choose to be whatever you want to be, but trust me when I tell you that some of us who live with mental illness are less than thrilled with some of the companies selling these.


One of my best friends has a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia. Not only is she an associate in corporate America, a best selling author, and the VP of a non-profit organization, but also she is plagued with hallucinations so terrifying that they become debilitating. What do you think her costume should look like? A British party company thought this was fitting before they finally pulled it.

Skitso Insane Asylum Costume
Skitso Insane Asylum Costume


Like I said, gore it up but how can this ever be considered okay?

Slashed Wrists ages 14+
Slashed Wrists ages 14+

This company made a formal apology and apparently pulled this product clearly marked 14+ off of their shelves after complaints were lodged. I don’t understand glamorizing suicide and self-harm for the sake of a making a few bucks, not only do I believe that this is beyond poor taste but we need to look at what message this is sending.


And while I’m ranting about my own personal opinions of poor taste in Halloween costumes let me just point out this one – The Sexy Mental Patient.

The 'Sexy Mental Patient' Costume
The ‘Sexy Mental Patient’ Costume

I’ve been a patient in a psychiatric facility a few times now and I can tell you, there is nothing sexy about it.


What you choose for a costume for yourself or your children is your choice, but just think for a minute. There are so many people living with these illnesses and the way these party companies are cashing in on their vision is pretty gross in my humble opinion. 1 in 5 are, or will be, living with a diagnosed mental illness at some point in their lives, and sadly some of those people will take their own lives. When a party company sells an accessory for slit wrists they’ve lost my business for good. When a party company continues to use mental illness to make money and cash in on stigma, they’ve lost my business for good.


If you knew what it was like to be hospitalized and restrained for your own safety, or in a place so dark that you thought dying by your own hand was your only option, you’d think twice about these costumes as well. Your costume, your choice, but it’s just another opinion of mine that I thought I’d share with all of you. Whatever you choose, I hope you have a Happy Halloween.

Halloween: Are We Perpetuating Stigma?

Nicole Lyons

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APA Reference
Lyons, N. (2015). Halloween: Are We Perpetuating Stigma?. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 29, 2020, from


Last updated: 24 Oct 2015
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